Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, is one of the key instruments provided to the citizens of India. It allows the citizens to acquire any information subjected to several terms and conditions from the public or governing authorities as these authorities are accountable to the citizens. But, what was the reason for bringing such a policy? Let us understand the policy process model of RTI. The policy process model has six major steps as follow:
1. Agenda Setting:
This step deals with the agenda behind bringing such a policy by a particular government. Looking at the history of India, Britishers made several laws to prevent dissemination of information to people during their regime. Some of them are Officials Secret Act 1923, Archives Policy Resolution of 22nd December 1972, among many others. These laws prohibited the citizens from obtaining information from any public authorities. However, later in 1996, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) protested against corruption in Rajasthan. But to prove their point, they needed bills and records from public offices which they were denied. This marks the beginning of RTI which was carried on a national level by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). Thus, the underlying agenda of getting RTI was to facilitate greater flow of information to the people and create accountability among the public offices towards citizens.
2. Policy Formulation:
The protest started by farmers club in Rajasthan was carried out on a national scale by NCPRI who asked Press Council of India (Chaired by Justice P.B. Sawant) to create a first model draft of the right to information. This draft was forwarded to Government for consideration and presenting it in both the houses of Parliament. However, the bill was presented, but ministers were kept out of the RTI ambit. This was challenged in Supreme court by filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Consequently, Freedom of Information Bill, 2002, was passed. However, with the change in government the National Advisory Council (NAC) was created instead. NAC was responsible for advising on monitoring the implementation of government schemes and issues related to policymaking. NCPRI approached NAC with few changes in the policy which was then forwarded to the government. Politicians and bureaucrats protested these amendments as it further increased the power of the citizens to obtain information. Even after the protest, the bill was passed as Right to Information Act, 2005 due to lobbying by several civil society organisations and masses.
3. Policy Legitimization
The policy was legitimised by making it an act which included penalties and punishment if not followed accordingly. Also, before this act, the right to information was an integral part of the fundamental right freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution. Also, awareness and capacity building was done of all the beneficiaries involved in this process such as officials, people, etc.
4. Policy Implementation:
The policy was implemented by forming several institutions and appointing dedicated officers. The structure of the implementation of RTI is as follows:
The above image shows that when a citizen applies for obtaining some information, the application is sent to Public Information Officers (PIOs) or Assistant PIO (APIOs) who then forwards it to Centre Information Commission/State Information Commission depending on the nature of the information asked. However, in the case where the PIOs/APIOs are not there or absent, the application can be directly sent to CIC/SIC. The timeline to provide the information is 30 days, and the fee for applying is usually Rs. 10 postal charges. There is a heavy penalty levied on PIOs/APIOs for not following the timeline as prescribed in the RTI Act, 2005. Also, a further appeal can be made to CIC/SIC if the appellant is not satisfied with the information provided by PIOs/APIOs.
5. Policy and Program Evaluation:
The RTI Act is evaluated with the help of report submitted by CIC/SIC at the end of each year to the respective government. Also, 2.44 crore RTI applications have been filed between 2005 to 2017. This shows that the people are getting aware of their rights. To empower the poor in this act, there are no fees levied on the application made by people below the poverty line. However, this is misused by many dominant people to ask for information on behalf of the poor which is then further used to blackmail the respective individual. Thus, there is a mixed response on the success of this policy as it has come to be beneficial for few and problematic for others.
6. Policy Change:
Recently, the Act was amended which increased the documentation process making it cumbersome for the people to apply. Also, it allowed the CIC/SIC to reject any appeal if the appellant is dead. These changes are against the masses as there have been several cases coming out where the appellant is killed just because he or she asked for some information which might lead to some illegal practices to come out. Thus, the changes are not people friendly.
This was the policy process model of RTI Act, one of the great initiatives by the policymakers and government. However, it is still difficult to say whether or not the Act has been successfully implemented.